Directed by Amy Heckerling (Clueless), and written by Cameron Crowe and based on his own 1981 book Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story – in which he literally went undercover as a student in a Southern California high school to research it (Crowe was factually a very young journalist), the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High is unabashedly open about all things teenage, which in this case is mainly tight jeans, talking about and having sex, as well as flirtation, hopeful consequences, fast-food jobs, awkward moments and pretty much everything you can associate with being that age. In fact, something you’ve either lived through in the past or are currently doing it now, and this new Criterion Collection release is a great addition to their range.
With hormones and social situations constantly crossing over, it’s also an interesting time to look back at 1982 with society moving fasting than ever but in the world of the basic principles, it thankfully doesn’t date too badly. As a teenager, you’re only obsessed with certain things, and while I believe kids are more worldly now, that bubble you create as a teenager is definitely here in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. All I cared about was music, parties and the girls I fancied and couldn’t talk to, and I see that character here for sure. It’s also an interesting early look at the world of Cameron Crowe because the themes of dreaming, sports and music are central, and he has made a career out of each of those in his films to this day – and that’s probably why I’m a huge fan.
Fast Times is very modern considering it’s nearly 40 years old, I think a lot of us look back and think people were shyer but when you’re an opening a film with casual underage sex scene from Jennifer Jason Leigh’s lead character Stacy, which is also her losing her virginity to an older man, you know there’s no holding back on the ponderings to come. And even if you think it’s not right, it does happen. That’s what we witness from start to finish, it gets to the point with matter-of-fact situations, and you can see why it would have caused a stir upon release, as they’re even strong enough to contain an abortion storyline.
Overall, you’ll individually pick out your favourites moments, I particularly enjoyed Ratner’s (Brian Backer) scene with Stacy (Leigh) after she invites him back to hers, because it’s innocent and captures the nerves of Ratner, the fear of the moment alone with a girl and his awkwardness which feels natural. While he runs from her at that moment, it’s because the girls are in charge, no matter how much the boys believe they are. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance as a 15-year-old, considering she was 20, is empowered, she knows what she wants and even when it goes wrong, she takes control and the guys are barely hanging onto growing up, even though everyone is trying to be older than they are. That’s the thread running through the middle of all the compelling chaos.
Other stand-out scenes include Sean Penn’s iconic stoner Spicoli, when he takes on teacher Mr Hand (a stellar old-school Ray Walston) in the classroom and displays the classic teenage rebellion – he’s a character with a lot of heart but not an excess of focus – plus Judge Reinhold’s Brad standing up for himself but losing his job in the process, and Forest Whitaker’s American Football game after his brother wrecks his car is hilarious.
Fast Times clearly influenced the likes of American Pie, The Breakfast Club, maybe even a bit of Kevin Smith’s Clerks and Mallrats, plus the Stranger Things creators had to have based their Mall season on the Ridgemont Mall stylistically because those look remarkably similar. Also, as well as the benefit of looking back, you cannot forget the exemplary cast. As well as those already mentioned, you’ve also got roles for Phoebe Cates Kline, Robert Romanus (who’s a bit like Jimmy Fallon), Nicolas Cage (as Nicolas Coppola), as well as Eric Stoltz and Anthony Edwards as Spicoli’s stoner buds. There’s also Crowe’s eventual long-term collaborator Nancy Wilson, and Scent of a Woman director Martin Brest involved.
The boundless hormone-sparked-world of adolescence is here for all to see, and it’s a killer restoration with many valid talking points still up for discussion, a truly worthy 4K re-master addition to the Criterion Collection.
The release also features the television version of the film from the 80s, plus deleted and alternate scenes. There’s also the 1999 documentary ‘Reliving Our Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ with cast and crew, the audio commentary with Heckerling and Crowe from 1999, plus an audio discussion from 1982 with the director at the American Film Institute, as well as English subtitles for those who require that option.
One of my favourite extras was the new conversation with Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe that moderated by Olivia Wilde. This was deeply insightful and crazy to think that this film set a world in a mall before malls were really a ‘thing’ in the States. They took a leap casting the kids together and creating that world, but it worked, because the studio was scared but look, it’s an actual cult classic all these years later.
You also learn that Crowe literally went through dumpsters to get stuff for his writing, those books that people throw away at the end of terms for example, to get a bit more insight and make sure what he was writing was literally accurate. It’s a really good, honest chat and wonderful to watch and learn from.